Anthony of Egypt, St.
ANTHONY OF EGYPT, ST.
Primitive Egyptian hermit; b. Comus, Egypt, 250; d. Egyptian Desert, 356. Anthony (or Antony Abbot) found
school distasteful and shunned the companionship of other children. His well-to-do parents died when he was about 20, and he was left in charge of a younger sister. He gave himself over to prayer, and on hearing the Gospel message in church, he divided his property, keeping only enough to support his sister, whom he entrusted to a community of pious women. He practiced the religious life close to home and attached himself to an aged solitary, from whom he had the first lessons in the ascetic life. Later he went off in solitude to some empty tombs at a distance from the village. Here he remained some 12 or 15 years and was tempted by the devil. Then he moved to the desert and lived in an abandoned fort, where he was visited by people who had heard stories of his holiness and power over demons. He became their director in the spiritual life and gave them a long discourse, probably in the Coptic tongue since he knew no Greek.
This discourse on ascetic theology deals with the means of overcoming temptation and with the gift of the discernment of good and evil spirits. Later Anthony offered himself as a victim for martyrdom during the persecution of the Emperor Maximin Daja. He assisted the Christians in prison with material and spiritual solace, but was not called upon to suffer and recognized later that it took great spiritual courage to be a daily martyr to the flesh and one's own conscience.
He left his mountain retreat to combat the Arian heresy in Alexandria, and he spent his life partly in solitude, partly in journeys to his brethren to exhort them in the religious life. When he felt his end drawing near, he took two companions and retired into solitude. He died at the age of about 105 years.
The Vita Antonii was written by St. Athanasius one year after Anthony's death and influenced the whole Christian world. A Latin translation made by Evagrius, bishop of Antioch (d. 392), spread through the Roman Empire, and both St. jerome and St. augustine knew of it. It was modeled on Greek biography, which had sought to idealize an important figure in public life.
Athanasius saw in Anthony the ideal monk, who could prove his divine vocation by discerning spirits and by performing miracles—which he never claimed for himself but always attributed to God. Though illustrated with preternatural and, to modern tastes, bizarre incidents, the biographical data appear authentic. This vita influenced subsequent hagiography and literary and pictorial art as well.
Feast: Jan. 17.
Bibliography: athanasius, Vita Antonii, Patrologia Graeca 26:835–978; The Coptic Life of Antony, tr. t. vivian (San Francisco 1995); La vie primitive de S. Antoine: conservée en syriaque, ed. r. draguet (Louvain 1980); s. rubenson, The Letters of St. Antony: Monasticism and the Making of a Saint (Minneapolis 1995). The Paradise or Garden of the Holy Fathers, tr. e. a. wallis budge of Vita Antonii and other texts from Syriac (New York 1972). m. alexandre, Saint-Antoine entre mythe et légende, ed. p. walter (Grenoble 1996). r. abt-baechi, Der Heilige und das Schwein (Zurich 1983). a. klaus, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiburg 1957–65) 1:667–669. l. bouyer, La Vie de Saint Antoine (Paris 1950). j. quasten, Patrology (Westminster, MD 1950) 3:39–45. h. dÖrries, "Die Vita Antonii als Geschichtsquelle," Nachrichten der Akademie der Wissenschaften in Göttingen 14 (1949) 359–410. g. bardy, Dictionnaire de spiritualité ascétique et mystique, ed. m. viller et al. (Paris 1932) 1:702–708.
[r. t. meyer]